Environment

Plastic Winds

The scattering of plastic pollution in the world’s waterways and atmosphere is now resulting in the “plastification” of the planet, with the debris “spiraling around the globe” in the wind.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that smaller microplastics can remain in the atmosphere for nearly a week, which is long enough for them to be carried across an ocean or a continent. A lot of the airborne particles are from decades-old, broken-down items such as plastic bags, wrappers and bottles.

But the biggest sources are roadways, where the tires of large trucks and other vehicles degrade into tiny bits as they rumble along and are picked up by the wind.

Environment

Floods and Pests

Southeastern Australia’s worst floods in 50 years have forced thousands from their homes and driven a frightening number of snakes and spiders into populated areas. Other wildlife are also scrambling for higher ground, including skinks, ants and crickets.

The hordes of spiders invading people’s homes have proven to be the most traumatic for many residents. But they are advised not reach for insecticides because the arachnids will eventually leave when the waters recede.

Plastic Pathogens

Researchers say they have found that the vast amounts of microplastics released into the environment from wastewater treatment plants each day may be “hubs” for antibiotic-resistant bacteria and other pathogens. A team from the New Jersey Institute of Technology says the plastic pollution forms a slimy layer of film on the surface of wastewater, which collects dangerous microorganisms and allows them to commingle and mix with antibiotic waste. The scientists say this poses a threat to marine life and human health if the plastic-borne pathogens bypass the treatment process, which is typically not designed to remove the plastics.

Environment

Smoke alarm

Intense, widespread bushfires in Australia injected huge amounts of smoke into the stratosphere in 2020. Hirsch and Koren found that this smoke caused record-breaking levels of aerosols over the Southern Hemisphere, as much as that from a moderate volcanic eruption. The severity was caused by a combination of the vigour of the fires and their location at a latitude with a shallow tropopause and within the midlatitude cyclones belt. This aerosol increase caused considerable cooling over oceanic cloud-free areas.

Pulveriszing Plastic

Scientists say they have found a way to cleanly, efficiently and cheaply break down polystyrene, a type of plastic used in packaging material, food containers, cutlery and other items.

A team from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and Clemson University says it has found a way to grind up the polystyrene with metal ball bearings until a desired chemical reaction occurs. This type of “mechanochemistry” deconstructs the plastic through chemical events in which the metal bearings and oxygen in the air act as co-catalysts. The resulting debris can be used to create other products. “We think this proof of concept is an exciting possibility for developing new recycling technologies for all kinds of plastics,” said senior scientist Viktor Balema.

Environment

Ocean Plastic Pollution

The international nonprofit advocacy organization, Oceana, released a new report this month that lists plastic pollution as the #1 killer of marine wildlife. The team of researchers surveyed government agencies, organizations, and institutes to collect data on how plastic pollution is impacting marine life.

The researchers say the biggest problem they found was animals consuming plastic. This can happen due to an animal mistaking plastic for food or inadvertently swallowing plastic materials while swimming. Becoming entangled in plastic was also listed as a frequent problem. This can lead to the animal choking, suffering physical trauma, or not being able to feed properly.

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Environment

Pervasive Plastic

Researchers have found that most whales, turtles and fish may be swimming the world’s oceans with plastic in their bodies.

Writing in the journal Global Change Biology, Marga Rivas at Spain’s University of Almería and her team analyzed data from 112 published studies from the past decade. They conclude that 66% of all sea turtles had macroplastics and microplastics in their systems, while 55% were contaminated with a class called microfibers.

The highest rates of plastic contamination were in the Mediterranean and northeastern Indian Ocean.

Environment

Plastic Soils

New research finds that microplastic pollution is causing harm to the tiny creatures living in the ground. Writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, scientists say the assault is occurring in soil-dwelling mites, larvae and other creatures that are crucial to the fertility of the land. They play an important role in recycling carbon and nitrogen, and they break down organic material.

Plots contaminated with microplastics saw a reduction of those creatures of between 15% and 62%, the scientists said.

Environment

Plastic Reaches Antarctica

Scientists have found for the first time evidence that plastic has entered the food chain in the Antarctic. Researchers write in the journal Biology Letters that bits of polystyrene were discovered in the guts of tiny organisms known as springtails, living in the soil not covered by ice on King George Island, off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Extensive scientific research, along with an airport, military facilities and visiting tourists, make it what the researchers call one of the most contaminated regions of the Antarctic. The authors of the report said they believe the springtails inadvertently consumed the plastic fragments while grazing on their usual food.

Environment

Pollution – Plastic or Cans

Producers of bottled water are scrambling to find practical ways to switch from the single-use plastics that are polluting the planet to recyclable aluminum cans.

The biggest challenge is that creating each can means twice as much carbon is released into the atmosphere than from the manufacture of one plastic bottle. Cans are also more expensive to make.

Marketing experts say this is somewhat offset because less power is needed to chill water in cans.

Wild Earth

Despite humankind wielding an overwhelming influence on the planet, scientists say that half of Earth’s land surface not covered in ice still remains relatively wild, albeit broken into small, isolated tracts.

The summary of a National Geographic Society global survey conducted in 2017 and 2018 concludes that even with the damage to the environment caused by human activities, there is still an opportunity to protect what wild places are left.

The wildest remaining regions are the remote boreal forests of northern Canada and Russia, the Central Asia highlands, the Central and South American rainforests and the deserts of North Africa and Australia.

Nature – Images

Interesting Images

Depressing Image Shows Dead Baby Sea Turtle Found with 104 Pieces of Plastic in Its Belly

Sea turtles aren’t made to eat plastic.

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Wildlife

Earthworms vs Plastic

A new study finds that one of the world’s most common earthworms cannot thrive in ground polluted with high levels of microplastics.

Lead researcher Bas Boots of Britain’s Anglia Ruskin University says the finding adds to the growing body of evidence of how increasing plastic pollution is affecting the natural world.

“These effects include the obstruction and irritation of the digestive tract, limiting the absorption of nutrients and reducing growth,” Boots said.

Environment

Plastic Pollution

The plastic that humans unwittingly ingest has now been detected in stool samples from people in diverse locations around the world.

Writing in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, lead researcher Philipp Schwabl of the Medical University of Vienna says that none of the stool samples they examined was free of microplastics.

The test subjects showed signs of possible plastic exposure from food wrappers and bottles. Most had also consumed ocean-going fish, which are known to eat plastic.

Antibiotic Pollution

As much as 80 percent of the antibiotics entering the River Thames in human waste must be stopped to avoid the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, a new study says.

Researchers from Britain’s Center for Ecology & Hydrology warns that rivers are now reservoirs for the superbugs, which can spread quickly to people in water, soil, air, food and animals.

The study results came after England’s chief medical officer warned that microbes resistant to antibiotics could pose a more immediate risk to humans than climate change, with their potential to kill at least 10 million people a year worldwide.

Environment

Plastic Pollution goes Airborne

Tiny bits of microplastics have been discovered in recent months in rainwater and snowfall from Colorado to the Arctic.

They join similar plastic pollution that has shown up in groundwater, rivers and lakes, and at the deepest depths of the sea.

Scientists from the Northwest Passage Project, taking ice core samples this summer in Arctic Canada, say they also found visible plastic beads and filaments of various shapes and sizes in the ice.

Earlier studies have found that plastic has fallen from the sky in Europe’s Pyrenees Mountains, a region near Hong Kong, the Iranian capital of Tehran and Paris.

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Environment

Everest clean-up

Nepali climbers have retrieved four bodies and collected some 11 tonnes of decades-old garbage from Mount Everest and its approach below the base camp as part of a drive to clean up the world’s highest mountain.

Climbers returning from the 8,850-metre mountain say its slopes are littered with human excrement, used oxygen bottles, torn tents, ropes, broken ladders, cans and plastic wrappers left behind by climbers, an embarrassment for a country that earns valuable revenue from Everest expeditions.

The garbage, along with the bodies of some of the 300 people who have died over the years on Everest’s slopes, are buried under the snow during winter, but become visible when the snow melts in summer.

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Plastic Pollution

Humans on Earth eat at least 50,000 particles of microplastic on average each year and inhale a comparable amount as well, according to new research that looked at data from 26 previous studies. Some experts estimate the level being absorbed by people is actually much higher.

The plastic pollution is entering the human food chain and environment due to the disintegration of plastic bags, bottles and other litter, which has now reached virtually every corner of the planet.

Another study cautions that pathogens and other organisms have been found to grow on microplastics in fresh water, posing a potential threat to the health of humans and wildlife.

Environment

Somalia Famine

The U.N. issued a special alert as the specter of famine rose in Somalia due to the failure of last fall’s rainy season as well as the one this spring.

More than 2 million people are threatened with severe hunger later this year, along with the many head of livestock the population depends upon for food and livelihood.

“Herders in the worst drought-affected areas, such as central Galgaduud and in northern Bari and Sanaag regions, have been forced to slaughter the offspring of their goats and sheep,” said U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Somalia representative Serge Tissot.

Plastic Houses

A Mexican engineer says he has an easy and useful way to recycle the untold tons of plastic pollution that now litter virtually every corner of the planet.

Ramón Espinosa says his company, Ecoplástico Ambiental, can convert the ubiquitous debris into strong sheets of “plastic wood,” which can be used to build homes, furniture and a variety of other objects.

He says the formed plastic not only insulates, it also doesn’t crack or degrade, meaning that homes made of it could last for 150 years.

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Environment

Scientists Went to One of the World’s Most Remote Island Atolls. They Found 414 Million Pieces of Plastic

The amount of plastic pollution previously thought to exist around the world may be a dramatic underestimate — because the vast majority of plastic pollution may actually be below the surface.

That’s the takeaway from a survey of plastic pollution on the beaches of Australia’s Cocos Islands, made up of two coral atolls.

An estimated 414 million pieces of debris are now littering the remote islands, and the vast majority of that waste is buried below the surface, according to a new study. But even that is likely an underestimate, a group of researchers reported May 16 in the journal Scientific Reports.

What’s more, because most of this plastic is buried below the surface, and most global surveys don’t look below the surface, the amount of plastic pollution worldwide may be way more than we previously thought, they reported.

The scientists surveyed seven of the 27 islands, which made up 88 percent of the total landmass of the islands, and estimated that they were littered with 262 tons (238 metric tons) of plastic. A quarter of those pieces of debris were single-use or disposable items such as straws, bags and toothbrushes (about 373,000 of them), The researchers also identified some 977,000 shoes.

Roughly 93% of the debris found, most of it tiny micro-debris, was actually buried below the surface. But because they only dug 3.94 inches (10 centimeters) into the sand, and couldn’t access some beaches that are known to have a lot of debris, these numbers are likely conservative.

The amount of debris buried up to about 4 inches (10 cm) below the surface of the beach is 26 times higher than the amount visible on its surface, the researchers wrote.

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